If you were a teenager of 1960s Whitstable, there
is a name that you will almost certainly have stored in your
memory bank.... along with those of the Beatles, Swinging Blue Jeans
and Searchers. It is of course "The Rock-a-Beats".... the
town's most revered pop group of those Swinging Years.
Who will ever forget those nights at the Parish
Hall when the Rock-a-Beats and other local groups (such as the
Spartacans) turned Whitstable's Oxford Street into Merseyside for the benefit
of local youngsters. By then, fashion and music had become
inextricably linked and the group went on to acquire a very
sophisticated and professional look....
Rock-a-Beats: Ray Page (rhythm guitar), Roger Head
Dave Harvey (base guitar), Phil 'Pip' Hadler (lead guitar)
(Photo kindly supplied by Alan and Pip Hadler)
.... but it wasn't always like that! If we move
a yard or two further south along Oxford Street and turn the clock
back to the late 1950s, we pick up a less smooth but
no less fascinating scene....
The Black Cats: Ray
Page (guitar), Dave Dennis (tea chest base), Phil 'Pip' Hadler
(guitar) and Paul Foad (drums).
supplied by Alan and Pip Hadler)
Yup, this shot of "The Black Cats" skiffle group
actually records the origins of the Rock-a-Beats... albeit with a
slightly different line up.
Kindly supplied by Alan and Pip Hadler, these are
two of my favourite photos from the Simply Whistable web site
because they bring back so many memories. They also enable me to
make some general comments about those far off days. So, let's take a
The pictures straddle a boundary
between decades that were quite different but inextricably linked.
In fact, the swinging sixties had their origins quite firmly
rooted in the mid-to-late
1950s. The metamorphosis of the Black Cats into Rock-a-Beats
was local evidence of a transition that was taking place throughout the western
The Black Cat photo was actually taken during a
talent contest at the Oxford cinema (now the Oxford Bingo Hall) .
By then, cinemas were starting to wilt under competition from other
entertainments. Norman Wisdom was still packing them in.... but
Randolph Scott was in trouble!
Television was arriving and the town's first TV
Rental Company (Rentaset) was about to make home entertainment
affordable for a large section of the local community. The Oxford
became innovative... by mixing traditional cinema with live attractions in order
to fight the battle for customers. Apart from staging shows for
undiscovered talent, it also attracted some established
performers. In fact, Alan Hadler recalls seeing Craig Davis (of "She
was only 16" fame) performing there.
All this probably explains why The Oxford became a Bingo Hall
some years after its rival (the Regal in High Street)
became Whitstable's first supermarket (Fine Fare - now Somerfields).
Mind you, central heating also played a part... because the Oxford
was always several degrees warmer than the Regal! The Fine Fare
shop also brought with it another innovation - the Town's very
first Chinese Restaurant (The Jasmine Tree) on the first floor!
The 1950s was a period of austerity
in the aftermath of World War II. However, it was also a time
of greater freedom for youngsters. I am not sure why. Maybe, a
world conflict had wearied our parents and made them want to build
a society of greater freedom and understanding. Maybe, they
felt that their own youth had been taken from them by war duties
and wanted something better for their kids.
Whatever the reason, young people had opportunity
but little money. It was an interesting combination because it
encouraged something very important.... invention! Thus, skiffle and
young exponents such as the Black Cats
burst onto the scene... with ideas.... tea chests.... and drum kits with a
For similar reasons, things were changing
worldwide. Young people were questioning and re-inventing the
world of music with Rock 'n Roll and the more innovative mixes pursued by
new icons such as Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. At the dawn of the
1960s, the Everly Brothers would add their own brand of harmony
and create the circumstances in which the Beatles could get to
There was perhaps one other major factor involved
in spanning that boundary between 1950s and 1960s. The economy was
on "the up". The war had left the world short
of skilled workers and jobs required greater adaptability to cope
with new techniques. The poorly paid young apprentices of the
1950s became the better paid young employees of the 1960s.
Young people now had money without financial
commitment and became a major influence in the market place.
However, their market was one that older people couldn't
understand or satisfy. Thus, youngsters became both
customers.... and suppliers. The biggest impacts were felt in the
worlds of fashion and music where young performers and
entrepreneurs took control. The 1960s were typified by entertainment for young people by young
people... and it was
something that had never happened before.
Against this background, some of the Black Cats
moved on to the more sophisticated image and performances of the
Rock-a-Beats. However, changes
needed to be made and some involved pretty basic matters....
such as the name of the group itself. Phil Page explains.....
|Unfortunately, there was a professional outfit recording under
the Black Cat name.... hence the change.
They graduated to the Fender Stratocaster and later
Rock-a-Beats. The rest is
There was also some craftsmanship involved in the
early days of the transition...
|I recall Pip Hadler's dad (Chels Hadler) making their
first guitars in his shed as he was a first class woodworker.
After making a name locally, the Rock-a-Beats
extended their reputation throughout the county and beyond..... as
the newsclip (below) explains ...
What memories! And, of course, it didn't end with the passing
of the 1960s. The Rock-a-Beats have had a couple of reunions - with a Charity Concert
for Dave Lee's Happy Holiday Appeal at the Westgate Hall, Canterbury and a big
performance at the Marlowe Theatre. Thus, it is a group that not only crossed
a boundary between two eras.... but also one that survived a further
Phil Hadler and Ray Page still
live in Whitstable and take part in local events. Dave Harvey resides in
Australia but returned to the UK for the charity concert at the Westgate Hall.
It's a Whitstable success story to be celebrated and
recorded.... and we would like to express our
thanks to Phil Hadler, Alan Hadler and Phil Page for enabling us to do so. Wouldn't it be great to see the
Rock-a-Beats back on a stage
where they originated.... in Whitstable!